An additional $467 million in federal funding has been set aside to relieve crowding in Australia’s immigration detention network after international border closures put a pause on deportations, budget papers have revealed.
The federal budget, handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday night, includes $202 million to be spent on increasing the capacity of onshore facilities and Christmas Island’s North West Point detention centre before the end of the financial year, and an additional $263 million in 2021-22.
Deportations of non-citizens have stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the government to reopen the North West Point facility in August to free up space in the onshore system.
Up to 250 detainees have since been transferred from onshore immigration detention to the Christmas Island facility, located more than 1,500 kilometres from the West Australian coast.
The majority of detainees held on Christmas Island have had their visas cancelled under section 501 of the Immigration Act due to a criminal conviction.
Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram previously told a Senate inquiry only people who have failed the character test would be sent to the island, defending the need to reopen the facility at a cost of $55.6 million.
“This [funding] will address ongoing capacity pressures on the immigration detention network as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability to remove unlawful non-citizens from Australia”, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a statement.
International travel restrictions are not expected to ease until at least mid-way through next year.
The Tamil asylum seeker family who have been detained on Christmas Island for more than a year are held in a different facility to the North West Point centre.